Traveling to the Shetland Islands, is going on an adventure even before you even arrive! The small islands, abandoned in the middle of the northern sea, are part of Scotland, and living in France, we sometimes feel its culture, but its remoteness makes it the perfect destination for amateurs of the great North.
Our ferry arrived in the early morning, after a difficult night crossing, and we discover little by little, the torn up coasts of the island of thousands of colors. The Lerwick Ferry emerges from the mist, like a ghost ship, and we finally set foot on an island, lost in time.
Traveling the roads of the archipelago is an experience to live at least once. We met ponies, sheep, and rain. Because it's omnipresent, this drizzle penetrates your bones and the wind is the type that gets you hair messy, and freezes the air. They get along like the best friends in the whole world, and take pleasure in saying hi at the moments when you least expect it.
The Islesburgh Youth Hostel is very nice, a great walking distance of all the amenities, and it has parking for the crazy souls who come with their car (like myself). It's tidy and the rooms are clean! But my personal favorite was an Airbnb, "The Waddle", near Walls. The owners are pure honey, and the living situation is great. It's cozy, has a view of a sea loch, and I didn't leave for 3 days (I needed the rest!). It was pure heaven!
My top 3 trips:
St. Ninian's Isle, Mainland: If you're lucky, the sun will come and greet you. The Isle has a magnificent white sand beach, an arm going to the sea with a small island to walk around. Don't worry, even if the armget
really shallow during high tide, it's never completely submerged!
Once you’re on the Island, making your way all the way around can take up to 3 hours. We saw amazing cliffs, thousands of sheep, special passageways over fences, and a great amount of birds. Shetland is famous for it’s colonies of marine birds, especially the Gannet and the Puffin. There are also many ruins on the island, and its relief allowed us to have a nice view over the sea and the rest of the island.
and the Hermaness Cliffs: With 2 short ferry rides, it's possible to go to the Island of Unst, thenorth
most island of the archipelago in the United Kingdom. Being the most eccentric, it's also the least populated and the prettiest in my opinion. It has a magnificent lake, sumptuous valleys, and above all, amazing cliffs: the Hermaness Cliffs.
In the heart of the Hermaness reserve, they cliffs rise 170 meters from sea, and have a great number of bird colonies!
The Northern Lights: Okay, so it's not really a trip, but it's totally worth a spot on this list. The Northern Lights are visible at North and South of the earth, and the Shetlands, being at the same level as Oslo, we had a great chance to see some. For the lucky ones, like myself, it happened during the very first visit. With the light pollution being very low on the islands, the only perturbing factor is the weather.
That night, the clouds were present, and the wind was doing its habitual dance, but I was still able to see them. Dancing in the distance, with tones of green, it was a marvelous view. They illuminated the clouds that were unfortunately blocking most of the sky, but didn't prevent me from seeing the lights.
I had my first "Stendhal Syndrome" on the islands! In the Hermaness reserve, while I arrived to the cliffs, I had the choice of going right or left. Going right would permit me to go on a 4 hour hike on the hills along the cliffs, to observe birds and see Muckle Flugga, the most random lighthouse in the entire world, nicknamed the "impossible lighthouse". Perched on a rocky peak in the middle of the sea, it seems to appear out of nowhere..But going left was my first choice. After walking for a while, going uphill and downhill, along some very nice cliffs, I smelled a very foul odor. Curious, I kept going up a very steep hill. Every step was getting me closer to the most magnificent spectacle I have ever seen. While I arrived at the summit, I saw a crescent of gigantic cliffs, and once I was on top of the hill, I realized they hosted a colony of over 4,000 gannets, hooked on the walls of cliffs higher than a 60-story building. Whirling over my head in a dance, they sang their unique song along the cliffs. It's a grandiose scene, and I couldn’t help but sit and admire it.
A few tips before you go to the islands:
- I recommend downloading the free app Aurora. The app will send you notifications based on your location when you have strong chances of seeing an aurora. It's this app that notified me at midnight with a 70% probability of seeing one, and got me to go outside in my pajamas and drive on the deserted roads to find an acceptable viewpoint, and finally discover the unique light of the "Merry Dancers".
- To visit Scotland, and the Shetlands in particular, you have to be 100% waterproof. The rain is here almost daily. Shoes, pants, jackets and backpacks need to be sealed if you don't want to find yourself soaking wet.
- As soon as you arrive, go to the tourist office in Lerwick, on the main street, and take maps of all the areas you'd like to visit. They will show you places of interest, the main and secondary roads, and the public bathrooms (totally convenient when you drive all day!).
- Accommodations are quite rare on the islands, and even during the month of April, most of them were already booked. Book your adventure as early as possible, because a lack of planning may result in a few nights under the stars.
- If you like to explore by bike, the wind can be your nemesis. It's very violent and changes direction all the time. The car, in my opinion, is the best option.
Zephyr & Luna is a wedding and portraits photographer specialized in destination weddings and elopements. Installed in the center of France, she is available for projects worldwide. She offers “Adventure” experiences, which are travels from 1 to 15 days in the most remote locations of the world, to create epic couples pictures in fantastical landscapes.
To view more of Zephyr & Luna's work, visit her here.